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Science of Living Systems 20: Psychological Science

Fall 2014
MON & WED 1:00 – 2:30 PM
Emerson Hall 105

Professor Jason Mitchell Nicole Noll, Ph.D.
William James Hall 1530 William James Hall 960
Email: Email:
Office hours: Tuesdays 10:30 – 11:30 AM Office hours: Wednesdays 11-12 PM

• Narges Afshordi William James Hall 1120
• Garth Coombs Northwest Building 280.04
• Nicole LeBlanc William James Hall 1244
• Tanya Levari William James Hall 1068
• Bria Long William James Hall 7 floor
• Kevin Madore William James Hall 880
• Ruosi Wang William James Hall 7 floor
• Alex Was William James Hall 1120

• Course website:
• Lecture slides will typically be posted on the course website before each class meeting (usually, the
evening before). The posted lecture slides will not be exact replicas of the slides used in class and
should be considered auxiliary material to help with note taking and organizing your understanding of
the lecture. The exact slides used in lecture will be posted after the relevant class meeting.
• Video/audio recordings of the lectures will not be available.
• There is no restriction on laptop use; however, please see the below section on “How to Maximize The
Likelihood of Getting a ‘Good’ Grade.” We have found that laptop-users do not do as well in this course
as students taking notes in more traditional ways.

• Psychology (2014, 3 edition) by Schacter, Gilbert, Wegner, & Nock. Worth Publishers. ISBN 1-4641-
0603-7. This is the main textbook and should be available at The Coop or online. You may opt to use
the 2 edition and we have provided the corresponding page numbers where applicable. However, be
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aware that the 3 edition has updated content. You may also use the 1 edition, but at your own risk:
we do not know which pages correspond to the current edition and have not checked the overlap in
• Budget-conscious students may want to consider renting the textbook, which is available from several
on-line sources (e.g.,;;
• A number of shorter readings will be made available electronically on the course website.

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• This course meets the Science of Living Systems requirement of Harvard’s Program in General
Education. The central mission of the General Education program is, “to connect in an explicit way what
students learn at Harvard to life beyond Harvard, and to help them understand and appreciate the
complexities of the world and their role in it.”
• To this end, an important goal of this course is improve students’ understanding of the relation between
basic laboratory science and the broader society in which we live. This includes (1) an appreciation for
what takes place in psychology experiments; (2) how findings from the lab are translated into policy and
popular accounts (such as newspaper or blog coverage); and (3) how to contribute to accurate
“popularization” of scientific findings.
• These three aims are each the focus of a specific aspect of the course. A first-hand understanding of
laboratory experiments in psychology is achieved by participation in research studies; the relation
between experiments and their popularization will be a focus of discussion section meetings; and, the
final project asks students to contribute their own “translation” of a psychological finding into a policy or
popular piece. See below for additional information.

1. Research Participation
• Learning about psychology requires reading, listening, and doing. Over the course of the semester, you
must participate in 5 hours of research studies conducted by faculty at Harvard University. All qualified
studies have been approved by the Harvard University Committee for the Use of Human Subjects, and
by the Department of Psychology Study Pool Committee.
• You can make appointments to participate at the study pool website:
You should create an account by September 19 . Instructions are posted on the course website.
• You must complete this requirement by December 3 . It is highly recommended that you “space out”
the experiments. Not all experimenters are recruiting all the time, and if you wait until the last few weeks
of the semester to complete this requirement, it is likely that you will not be able to find a sufficient
number of experiments in any given week. It would be best practice to complete at least 3 hours of
research studies by October 31 .
• If you do not fulfill the research participation requirement, you will receive a letter grade in the course
that is one full letter grade lower than the grade you otherwise would have earned.
• Your rights as a participant in psychological research are paramount and will be fully explained to you
when you arrive for a study. One of those rights is the right to decline to participate. If you agree to
participate in a study and decide at any time after the study begins that you do not wish to continue
participating, you may withdraw. If you either decline to participate or withdraw after agreeing to
participate, you will still receive full credit for your participation. However, you must show up on time for a
study to receive credit.
• Participation in research should always be voluntary. If you decline to participate in research, you may
fulfill the research participation requirement by writing a 10-12 page paper on a topic selected with your
TF. This alternate assignment will be due on December 3 . To exercise this option, you must notify your
TF via email by September 19 .

2. Discussion Sections
• This course includes discussion sections that meet once per week for 60 minutes. Sections have been
designed to meet three main goals. First, they introduce supplemental material (i.e., content that is not
covered in lecture or in the textbook) and provide a forum for students to discuss content in an active
fashion. Second, sections will focus on skills needed for the final project, including a discussion of how to
read basic psychological research and how to “translate” science for the popular press. Finally, one
section meeting will be dedicated to review for the midterm exam.

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• Most section meetings will have readings that are in addition to the textbook readings, and some will
have activities to complete prior to section meetings. You are expected to come to section having
carefully read the assigned material. Most sections will begin with a short quiz that covers the reading
associated with section.
• Attendance in section is mandatory. If there is a week when you absolutely cannot attend your section,
you must arrange with your TF to find a suitable alternate section to attend. We can accommodate no
more than one such request per student per semester.
• You will receive a Section Grade (up to 100 points) that reflects your performance on section quizzes,
participation, and attendance. It will not be difficult to obtain a perfect Section Grade if you attend all the
sections, read the material prior to section, and participate actively in section.
• The midterm and final exams will cover the readings, activities, and discussions associated with
• The sectioning tool will be started after the end of shopping week. Discussion sections will begin
meeting during Week 3 (week of September 15 ). Sections are scheduled between Monday afternoon
and Wednesday morning. To accommodate holidays, not all discussion sections will meet each week;
however, every section will cover the same material over the course of the semester.
⎯ Monday sections will meet during the following weeks:
Weeks 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, & 13 (no meeting on Weeks 7 & 14)
⎯ Tuesday sections will meet during the following weeks:
Weeks 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, & 14 (no meeting on Weeks 8 & 13)
⎯ Wednesday sections will meet during the following weeks:
Weeks 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, & 14 (no meeting on Weeks 8 & 13)

3. Final Project
• For the final project, you will be asked to identify a psychological finding and construct a “translation” of it
suitable for non-scientific audiences. This translation could take two forms: (1) a white paper (10-15
pages) that makes recommendations to policy-makers, such as on how to reform the prison system or
on the need for changes to psychiatric care; or (2) a multimedia project, such as a video, website, or
game (3-5 minutes to experience) that explains a psychological finding to a non-scientific audience.
• Details of the project requirement are provided on the course website under “Guidelines for the Final
Project.” Examples of successful projects from earlier semesters are also available.
• The final project will be due no later than Monday, December 8 at 11:59 PM.

4. Exams
• There will be two exams in this course. The first will take place during the lecture period on October 22
and the second will be during finals period. The exams will cover information in the textbook, the
readings, lectures, and discussion sections. Though the final exam is not cumulative in the strict sense
of the term, questions on the final exam may require you to relate material from the second half of the
course to that covered in the first half.
• An absence from the in-class exam will not be excused unless…
… you are unable to appear because the regularly scheduled exam falls on a religious holiday.
Please look at the calendar now. If you will be unable to appear for a regularly scheduled exam
because it falls on a religious holiday, you must notify the Preceptor by September 19 . If you
follow this procedure, the Preceptor will determine the best way to ensure that you are not penalized
for your absence.
… you are ill on the day of a regularly scheduled exam and you present a signed form from Harvard

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University Health Services to your Senior Tutor or the Freshman Dean who then provides a letter of
excuse to the Preceptor. If you follow this procedure, the Preceptor will determine the best way to
ensure that you are not penalized for your absence.
• No make-up or alternative exam will be available for students traveling on the date of the exam. Please
check the travel schedule for your athletic team/dance troupe/music ensemble/etc. and ensure that you
will be able to take the exams on the dates scheduled. Exceptions to this policy will not be granted.

5. Grades

• Grades are based on exam scores, your final project, research participation, and discussion section
• Each exam and the final project is worth 100 points. Your Total Score is the sum of your scores on the
Exam #1 + Exam #2 + Final project + Section grade.
• Your final grade will be determined by your rank in the distribution of Total Scores. This practice
(sometimes called “curving”) ensures that grades are based on realistic standards for student
performance. For more information about why students should prefer to be graded on a curve (despite
common opinion to the contrary), see the attached sheet on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love
the Curve.”
• To give you a rough idea of how all this translates into actual grades, the table below shows the
expected percentage of students who will receive each grade in this course:

A 18%
A- 19%
B+ 14%
B 15%
B- 9%
C+ 7%
C 8%
C- 6%
D+ 3%
D 1%

• If you do not fulfill the research participation requirement, you will receive a letter grade in the course
that is one full letter grade lower than the grade you otherwise would have earned (e.g., if you were to
have received an A-, you would instead receive a B-).
• Please note that this course cannot be taken pass/fail, even if you are not counting the course for SLS
General Education credit.

6. How to Maximize The Likelihood of Getting a "Good" Grade

Over the last few years, we've collected data on what study habits correlate with high grades in this
course. The most consistent finding has been that students who use laptops in class have done worse
than students taking notes in more traditional ways; for example, in Spring 2014, laptop-users received a
final grade that was more than a half-point lower than students taking notes on paper.
In general, students with the highest exam grades are those who most regularly both attend lecture and
attend to lecture. Attending lecture means showing up for each class meeting on time. But we've also
found that merely being present in the room during lecture is not sufficient for doing well on the exams;
rather, students must be actively attending to the material being discussed. Minutes spent sitting in lecture

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surfing the Web, texting, talking with classmates, etc. are no better than minutes spent at home in bed.
Many of us find it difficult to resist the temptation to divide our attention by checking email or reading
Facebook updates. In general, you might consider capitalizing on the study habits that have worked well
for you in the past... if you were successful taking handwritten notes, there may be little reason to switch
things up now.
Each year, a sizeable minority of students tell us that they do not take notes at all during lecture; on
average, their scores on exams are a full letter grade lower than students who are active note-takers.

7. The Relation Among Parts of the Course

The course includes material from three sources: (1) lectures, (2) the textbook, and (3) section
readings/activities. These three sources of information are largely independent and non-overlapping.
Although sometimes we will cover the same material in different venues, lectures will typically introduce
information that supplements⎯but does not directly review⎯the material covered in the readings. If you
are a student who wants the professor to recapitulate the readings in lecture, this is not the course for you.
To succeed in this course, you must complete the reading, attend lecture and discussion section, take
notes, and actively relate new information to what you have already learned in the course.

8. Academic Integrity
Plagiarism is any attempt to “present as one’s own an idea or product derived from an existing source”
(including another student). Plagiarism is tantamount to academic theft, and with the development of web-
based search engines and software for comparing electronic documents, it is now remarkably easy to
Many cases of academic dishonesty occur when students have not left themselves sufficient time to
complete the assignment thoughtfully. When in a rush, students have sometimes lost track of what was
their idea/writing and what originated from someone else. Accidental or not, plagiarism is grounds both for
failing the course and for referral to the Ad Board. To avoid it you should read Harvard’s policy on
academic dishonesty in the FAS Handbook for Students. For more information on how to cite others’ work,
please consult the Harvard Guide to Using Sources.

9. Collaboration
Collaboration on the final project is permitted, depending on the format of the project. If you choose to
submit a multimedia project, you may work in groups of up to three students. If you choose to submit a
“white paper,” you are required to work alone. Working alone means that, although you may discuss
general approaches to the assignment and seek assistance with proofreading, papers must be entirely
your own work. Papers should be the result of your own research and writing, and reflect your own
approach to the topic. Please review the Final Project Guidelines for additional information.

10. Accessibility
Any student needing academic adjustments or accommodations is requested to present their letter from
the Accessible Education Office (AEO) and speak with the Preceptor by September 19 . Failure to do so
may result in our inability to respond to your needs in a timely manner. All discussions will remain
confidential, although AEO may be consulted to discuss appropriate implementation.

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DATE TOPIC 3 edition 2 edition
Week 1
Sep 3 Introduction Textbook, Chapter 1 (same)

Sep 8 Psychological Science Chapter 2; Gilovich, pp. 1-72 (same)
Week 2 Sep 10 Evolution Marcus, Kluge, pp 1-17

Sep 15 The Brain Chapter 3 (same)
Week 3 Sep 17 Modularity & Consciousness Chapter 5, except pp. 193-203 Chapter 5, except pp. 190-200
Sep 22 Sensation & Perception Chapter 4 (same)
Week 4 Sep 24 Learning & Reward Chapter 7 (same)
Chapter 6; Loftus, “Creating False
Sep 29 Memory † (same)
Week 5 Memories”
Oct 1 Sleep Chapter 5 pp. 193-203 Chapter 5 pp. 190-200

Oct 6 Effective Remembering Dunlosky et al.
Week 6
Oct 8 Language Chapter 9 pp. 351-373 Chapter 9 pp. 347-368
Oct 13 [Columbus Day – no class]
Week 7 Oct 15 Memory & Language (cont.)
Oct 20 In-class review ⎯ ⎯
Week 8 Oct 22 Exam #1 ⎯ ⎯
Oct 27 Intelligence Chapter 10 (same)
Week 9 Chapter 9 pp 374-393; Damasio, Chapter 9 pp 368-375; Damasio,
Oct 29 Prospection † †
Descartes’ Error pp. 3-51 Descartes’ Error pp. 3-51
Nov 3 Social Cognition Chapter 13 (same)
Week 10 Nov 5 Groups, Influence, & Morality
Nov 10 Personality Chapter 12 (same)
Week 11 Nov 12 Emotions Chapter 8 (same)
Nov 17 Development I Chapter 11 pp. 425-451 Chapter 11 pp. 423-447
Week 12 Nov 19 Development II Chapter 11 pp. 451-469 Chapter 11 pp. 448-465
Nov 24 Student choice! TBA TBA
Week 13 Nov 26 [Thanksgiving – no class] ⎯ ⎯
Dec 1 Disorders of Mind I Chapter 15 Chapter 14
Week 14 Dec 3 Disorders of Mind II Chapter 16 Chapter 15

N.B. Readings marked as † will be available for download from the course website

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How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Curve

A good test is one that discriminates between (i) students who have studied, attended lectures, done the
reading, and otherwise endeavored to prepare for the exam and (ii) students who have done none or only
some of these things. A good test question is one that the first kind of student gets right and the second
kind of student gets wrong. Bad questions fail to discriminate either because they are too easy (both
types of students get them right) or because they are too difficult (both types of students get them wrong).

As we develop test questions, professors can’t always foretell which questions will be good ones and
which will be nondiscriminant, an inability that causes good students to suffer. The example below is from
a hypothetical test composed of 5 questions:

Student Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q5 Uncurved grade Curved grade

John X X 60% = D 2 =B
Jen X X X 40% = F 3 =C
Julie X 80% = B 1 =A
Justin X X 60% = D 2 =B
Joe X X X 40% = F 3 =C
Jasper X 80% = B 1 =A
Jill X 80% = B 1 =A
June X X 60% = D 2 =B

As you can see, Question #5 is too easy (every student gets it correct), whereas Question #1 is too
difficult (every student gets it wrong). If the professor graded without a curve, the best score would be a B
and more than one student would have failed the exam. However, this isn’t because the students in the
course are especially dumb, but rather because the professor didn’t create enough discriminating
questions. Look at what happens if the professor instead uses a curve that ranks students based on their
performance relative to other students: all the scores increase. By curving the grades, the professor is
assessing students against what was reasonable to expect students to know instead of the arbitrary
standard of what he or she hoped students would know.

You can illustrate this is by imagining that every student instead got Question #5 wrong. Using an
uncurved grade, students’ grades would decrease (more than half the students would now have failed the
exam). However, using a curved grade in which students are graded relative to one another, the grades
remain exactly the same (because each student remains in the same rank position relative to the other
students). In short, the reason that you, as a student, should love curves is that they ensure that only
good questions contribute to your exam scores⎯that is, those that actually discriminate among students.
A nondiscriminant question that everyone gets right or everyone gets wrong can’t affect your grade, which
is your best protection against bad test-writing by your professor.

It is easy to write questions that everyone at Harvard gets right: you and your classmates are pretty smart.
Discriminant exams at Harvard are challenging exams that test the material that you were expected to
learn. If an exam consisted entirely of pretty easy questions, the difference between an A and a B- might
be 2 or 3 questions… that’s the kind of difference due entirely to students accidentally filling in the wrong
choice, reading a question too fast, or simply having a momentary brain freeze. Instead, the goal of a
discriminant exam is to create “spread” among students, so that someone receiving an A has clearly
prepared better (i.e., didn’t just turn out to be luckier) than someone receiving a B-. To do this, exams in
the course will be challenging; you will not get every question correct. However, we expect that they will be
fair and test material that it is reasonable to expect well-prepared, motivated students to know.

Approximately the top-ranked 37% of students in Psych 1 will receive grades of A or A-minus and the
next 38% will receive grades of B-plus, B, or B-minus. In other words, about two-thirds of the class will
receive a grade of B-minus or better. See the syllabus for more information about expected grade cut-

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